Today’s gaming edition of iPhone Gems is short and relatively sweet: today, we’re briefly covering a mix of brand-new titles and ones that we’ve been playing for a while but haven’t had a chance to write about.
All but one of today’s five titles rates in our B range, with Gameloft’s Brothers in Arms standing out as the single most impressive title of the group, though also the most expensive. Read on for the details.
7 Cities TD ($5) by Neptune Studios is yet another of the many “tower defense” games we’ve seen over the past several months, and like the others, it has a few unique twists. Once again, you’re confronted by wave after wave of progressively stronger enemies that need to be stopped before they get past your defenses. Here, as the name suggests, there are seven cities—each with a hand-drawn, digitized map—and you are given seven different types of weapons, here in the form of towers, to use against sea-borne marauders. Unlike some, but not all other tower defense titles we’ve reviewed, the enemies follow a set path through the map, and there’s little AI in their motions; they either survive or don’t. The twists: your towers gain experience as you play, and you can continuously upgrade your towers in both power and 12 unlockable skills as long as you have the cash and special gemstones to do so.
The short story with 7 Cities is that it’s a nice game with graphics and sounds that take decent advantage of the iPhone’s processor. Neptune’s single biggest asset is its considerably hand-drawn artwork, which does a fine job of substituting for the 3-D-animated stuff we’ve seen in other games, and may charm some users. We found it to be a little weak on contrast, and some of the details, such as floating pirate booty, are very difficult to make out unless you manually zoom the camera in. Audio is a mix of nice flute, drum, and light orchestral tracks, accompanied by some fairly boring effects as enemies are killed and points are racked up. Thanks to multiple difficulty levels, the maps scale from amateur-level challenge right up to more advanced play.
Ultimately, there isn’t a ton to get excited about in 7 Cities, and this isn’t the first title we’d pick to show off the tower defense genre to a newbie. That said, if you’re a fan of the genre, this one will offer you enough minor novelties to make you feel like you’ve gotten your $5 worth; at a lower price, or with more maps—the developer says they’re coming—this would be a more compelling purchase. iLounge Rating: B.
As with several other Gameloft titles, Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes ($6) is such an ambitious game by iPhone standards that we find ourselves conflicted in offering criticism: it’s sort of like watching a high school student perform emergency surgery that ultimately didn’t save the patient, but came so close that you can’t help but be impressed anyway. Should a device this small, lacking not just one but two joypads, really be able to do a third-person military shooter well enough to keep you interested for six or eight hours?
With Brothers in Arms, Gameloft may have pared down a console-style World War II shooting experience for the iPhone, but it’s obvious that it was determined to keep as much intact as possible. You control a soldier in the middle of active 3-D battlefields populated by fellow soldiers, walking enemies, and vehicular enemies, all built with textured polygons. While you play, you’ll hear snippets of music, voices calling out orders, and the sound effects of gunfire and other environmental audio. This isn’t some third-rate mobile version of a 3-D shooter—it’s a real 3-D shooter, with most of the intensity you’d expect from a true handheld game console. There are 15 missions scattered across several stages, most with you on foot, but some where you drive vehicles such as a jeep or a tank.
Unfortunately, as is painfully apparent to anyone who has tried to actually play a first- or third-person walkaround shooter on the iPhone, control is a huge, painful issue. Gameloft gives you an on-screen joypad and buttons for firing and grenade tossing, also letting you switch between weapons such as rifles and bazookas. The problem’s in the steering and aiming: in addition to moving, you need to turn your character’s body by swiping on the screen, and this isn’t fun: bullets are coming at you from all directions, and you’ll sometimes get shot through before you can turn around. Just trying to aim a grenade in any sort of reasonable way requires a lot of screwing around—more than on any console game we can recall. Brothers in Arms compensates by letting you take enough hits to survive a few stray bullets, and by auto-aiming when your gun is in generally the right direction of your enemies, but ultimately, a solution in the form of redesigned maps, more obvious hit direction indicators, or—surprise—a better controller would really have helped. In the absence of this, a smarter camera and features like grenade auto-aiming would have been fine.
If you can get past the control issues, there’s a ton in this game to impress you: opportunities to take out both snipers and the towers they’re in, firefights with multiple enemies at the same time, and even one-on-one battles between your bazooka and tanks. Though the frame rate isn’t silky smooth, the scope of the environments and the fact that they’re so populated will surely win you over. But if the thought of control issues puts you off, don’t bother with the download. Brothers in Arms would have merited a high recommendation if the iPhone only had a real joystick, but as-is, it stands as an impressive but not fully satisfying testament to just how far developers can push this platform without a proper input scheme. iLounge Rating: B.
It’s LawlMart’s simple, three-part business plan: step one, take the 1984 Nintendo game Duck Hunt, step two, publish it on the App Store for $1, and step three, profit. Except, as with the business plan espoused by South Park’s famous Underpants Gnomes, step two is really a question mark: how does a copyrighted Nintendo game wind up approved by the App Store?
We’re not going to claim to understand that, but the developer appears to have succeeded for now: the game’s still in the Store, and Nintendo hasn’t responded to a request for comment. LawlMart’s version of the game is currently a simple, partial port of the original 2-D cartoon duck-shooting title, lacking sound, the beloved giggling dog, and the clay pigeon shooting mode that featured different background art and disk-shaped targets. Additionally, since there’s no way to connect the NES Zapper light gun or a similar peripheral, you’re given an on-screen Nintendo 64-style analog controller and a red NES-style firing button to shoot targets.
While the control combination isn’t exactly ingenious—why not just point at the ducks rather than having to use a cursor and button?—it does preserve the challenge of the original game, namely having to actually aim and hit a trigger rather than blowing ducks away with multi-touch gestures. Thus, whether there’s one duck on screen or two, the game’s only choice, it’s still a bit of a challenge to take the targets out without wasting ammo. Ultimately, between the unfinished quality of the product and the fact that it’s so clearly lifting Nintendo’s game, we’re not willing to call this title worthy of our recommendation—it’s more a demo of the App Store’s questionable approval process than anything else—but it will be interesting to see what the developer, Apple, and Nintendo wind up doing with it. iLounge Rating: D.
Few of the many puzzle games released for the iPhone thus far really stand out from the rest, and although there are surely some conceptual similarities between Publisher X and Codeglue’s Hydro Tilt ($5) and previous titles such as Pangea’s Enigmo, there’s enough in this clean little action puzzler to win over some gamers. The theme is water: you control a ball of liquid that has the ability to move in maze-like environments that look a little like levels from Labyrinth, aMaze, or Super Monkey Ball, save for their more varied terrain and the ability to change your ball’s abilities. Certain parts of each maze are unreachable unless you find devices that transform your water into ice or steam; succeed and you can activate buttons, moving platforms, and other items that let you make progress. You can also avoid some of the deaths that come from trying to cross platforms that disintegrate when touched by water, though not the ones that occur if you fall off the edge of the platforms.
While Hydro Tilt has the feel of an easy game—the mazes don’t exactly require brain surgeon-level genius—the developer has created three types of challenges to keep players interested. One is the goal of just completing all 25 main and 5 bonus levels. Another is the collection of crystals that are more difficult to reach. And still another is completing the levels quickly. Thanks to a less than completely thrilling control scheme, aided modestly by an in-game positional calibration scheme that we still found ourselves having issues with, you’ll be tilting the iPhone around a lot to move the water ball, and most likely succeeding at least at the initial level completion task.
Thanks to a simple 3-D engine that only struts its stuff when you activate a switch, simultaneously rotating and zooming out the current maze to show you the effect of what you’ve touched, Hydro Tilt looks fine graphically, and won’t blow anyone away: those expecting sophisticated water or other effects will be disappointed. It is also light on audio, with pre-game music that dissolves into silence save for sound effects. We’d call it a classic flat B game overall, and suggest that it becomes more interesting at its current $3 asking point than it would be at $5—the price at which we tend to expect everything from the graphics to the sound and gameplay to be that of a complete title. iLounge Rating: B.
Okay, Freeverse, we sort of get it. SlotZ Racer ($3) is the iPhone racing game for people who don’t want to actually steer a car using the device’s accelerometer-based controls. As with the classic slot car toys, you’re given an on-screen track with two or four slots, plus anywhere from 1 to 4 cars, and by default, a single button: accelerate. Hold the button down and you’ll completely fly off the track after a big turn. Use the button gently and you’ll be able to stay on the track, but you’ll probably get lapped by the computer-controlled cars that seem to be much better at picking the track’s good and bad acceleration points.
As much as we have been impressed by recent Freeverse titles, SlotZ Racer isn’t a title that we could get excited by. Initially, we would have blamed the button control, which doesn’t do a great job in our view of replicating the feel or precision of the pressure-sensitive accelerators in slot cars, but there’s a hidden option to change it to an analog slider control, which helps a lot. Then you’re just left with the core gameplay, which is probably the simplest we’ve yet seen in any iPhone driving title: all you do is regulate the analog slider and watch as your car drives itself.
While we were never big slot car fans as kids, there is absolutely no doubt in our minds that this title will have its audience, particularly people who enjoyed making their own slot car tracks. Developer Strange Flavour has included F-1, stock, and modern-looking GT sports cars, a full—if not totally easy to understand—track creator, and tracks that are actually multi-level with overpasses, sharp turns, and humps. You can save 16 tracks, modestly customize their backgrounds, and also change the looks of the tracks themselves. Multiplayer and single player, CPU-opponent modes are available, along with options to simulate fuel drain, set up a timer, and create other challenges for the players to worry about.
The single biggest feature here: the graphics engine, particularly its interesting dynamic camera. Rather than presenting the action from overhead or from behind your car, SlotZ Racer defaults to a dynamic camera view that moves your perspective as you navigate the track. You can switch to a chase view or a fixed view, but practically, you’ll want to see the action—complete with a view of the room where the track is set up, light trails off the back of the vehicles, and the 3-D road layouts—from a view that lets you also see your opponents. Audio is dry, with music before the game, but not during it; all you’ll hear are simulated engine noises.
If the idea of a slot car racer appeals to you, SlotZ Racer is worth checking out, but we see this as a nichey title without the sort of compelling gameplay that we look for in games we pay for. At press time, it’s going for only $1, so if you’re thinking of giving it a shot, now’s probably the time. For that price, slot car fans will think it’s a steal. iLounge Rating: B-.
Earlier iPhone Gems features can be found here.